Authors: Lin Kaymer
“We can talk here,” she says.
I stand mute, unsure of what to do.
Looking at the other side of the room, I notice her bed is still fitted with the fan like, seashell-shaped headboard she'd had as a girl. Her desk holds her notebook, school bag, some old books stacked in piles, and a red leather box, overflowing with bracelets. Above the desk are an antique oval mirror and a board with photos. I recognize some of the group prints from when we were kids.
Mackie takes my hand and tows me to the bed. “I want to tell you what I think happened tonight.” She sits on the edge of the bed and then stretches out on her side taking up half of the space. “I'll share,” she says, smiling, handing me a pillow. I flash back to childhood summer pillow fights with our friends. Then she scoots further across the bed, looks up at me, and says, “There's plenty of room.”
Not knowing what she has in mind, I lie next to her and nod. At the same time, I try to contain my excitement. That doesn't work. Mackie raises her eyebrows and gives me a grin. I smile back, feeling embarrassed. She's seen all of us guys with woodies at some point over the years. This is different. This is just the two of us.
She puts her right hand on my arm. Surprisingly, her touch makes me relax.
“You heard the orca groaning, right? I think he was full of toxins.”
“I can tell you what it felt like to me, and what I think happened. But you have to promise that you won't talk about this with anyone. Okay? It will sound too crazy,” she says, worry in her eyes.
“At Jen's, I was fine until just before you showed up. Then, I started to get this odd feeling like something was pulling at me. Kind of like when you hold the end of a vacuum cleaner hose close to your skin and the air sucks and pulls.
“I knew I had to leave, that I had to pay attention to that feeling. It seemed like it came from the direction of my house, so I decided to follow it. When we started walking, the vacuum pressure increased. That's why I asked if we could run. It was like I needed to get there, faster and faster.
“I could tell the pulling came from the water. But I didn't know how far out. The kayaks at least put us closer. When the orca surfaced, I knew. He was in trouble, and he was alone. He'd left his pod to find me. I needed to help him. So I waited until he could stay close to us.”
“He kept surfacing and looking at me. That started the connection between us. I couldn't have left, even if I wanted to. He felt stronger every time he looked at me.”
I could feel my eyes opening wider, and my muscles tensing.
“Mackie, this is really ah . . . different,” I say. “What did it feel like for you?”
She pauses and bites her lower lip.
“Once we made eye contact, I was locked in to him. Then, my energy moved to him. In the end, I couldn't move. Not even to paddle.”
I'm fascinated. I've never heard anything before like what she's describing. And she can't be making it up. Everything fits with what took place around us. I saw most of it from behind her, in my kayak. She hadn't moved at all, until after he left.
“You remember that last series of dives? He was thanking me. It was so weird. I helped him, and he tried to give me something back. It sounds bizarre, I know.” She shakes her head.
“So after he left, I lost it for a while. I'm really glad you went out with me.” Her eyes stay on mine for my reaction. I feel overwhelmingly protective of her in this moment. I won't let anything bad happen to her.
Mackie cuddles into me, resting her head against my chest and putting her arm around my back. I hope I can stay cool, okay
, because she still seems kind of fragile from our time on the water. She resumes speaking, this time not looking at me.
“I had the same feeling when our boat capsized this summer. I was in the water getting really cold. Then, it felt like whatever happened, I would be okay. It was peaceful. And tonight, when the orca was with us, I felt the same way. Does this sound psycho to you? Who would think about jumping in the water with a whale?” She looks up at me.
I smooth her hair. “I don't think you're mental. I was there the whole time and you didn't do anything weird. The whale was awesome. So were you. How did you know what was wrong with him, that he was sick and needed you?”
“I'm not sure. I just knew. And I knew that all I had to do was keep my eyes on his. Then I felt drained, and when he left his energy was really big.”
Now I can't help myself. I begin kissing her hair, and my lips stray down to hers. She breaks out of our kiss with a low sigh.
“Jer, the way the animals at the shelter have been and now this whale, I think that has to be related somehow. I've heard Doc talking with Gabe about how fast the animals have been healing. I feel funny, like I'm boasting. But you're the only person who's asked me about it.”
“Right,” I say. “The animals pay attention to you like they're waiting for something. They show you a lot of respect. It's like you're everyone's alpha. They don't do that with the rest of us. And Gabe's been the shelter's director for a long time, so he would see the accelerated healing. The animals do seem to recover faster after you've been with them. Do you have that same drained feeling when you leave the shelter?”
She thinks my question over. “Well, not nearly as much as I felt with the whale, but I've been pulled to animals and, after I've been with them, I feel kind of zapped.”
We stay quiet for a minute or so, mulling over what she's said.
“I have another question,” I say.
“No, not another,” she teases.
“Uh, why is this happening, now? Or, has it been happening but you haven't noticed it before?”
“That's two questions. Two good questions. I don't know. And I've thought about it a lot. Why me? It's not like I asked for this.”
So she's been trying to figure things out all along. I want to stay and talk with her all night. I check my watch. It's just eleven.
Mackie's eyes have closed.
Has she fallen asleep?
I run my fingers through the ends of her hair. Her eyes open. She's wide-awake now.
“It's fine,” she says.
I pull her in closer, eliminating any space between us as a shiver runs up and down my body.
“You too?” she asks.
Yeah, me too.
I smile, knowing what she means.
We hold each other, and this time I don't feel like I have to be embarrassed about my totally turned on reaction to her. There's no question about her knowing I think she's hot.
Finally, I say, “Hey, I need to be home by eleven thirty.”
“Okay,” she says, sleep rolling through her voice.
I swing my legs off the bed and sit up. If I'm too late, Jen's parents will get a worried call from my mom. I need to run to be home near curfew, but I can cruise for hours just off the excitement of the evening, especially the way I felt holding her.
Mackie walks me downstairs and watches as I torture my feet into my wet shoes.
Before I leave, she hugs me and says, with a mysterious smile, “I'll call you tomorrow. This time, I have a question for you.”
Sunday mornings have always been prime sleep time. On this Sunday, though, I wake at six thirty, my brain in overdrive.
Lying in bed, propped up on pillows with my notebook open, I list what I know to be true:
The orca and Mackie had a connection that I can't fully understand, but I recognized something when he surfaced to look at her. He wasn't a predator sizing us up for dinner. He'd seemed more like a whale who'd swum in to be with his best bud. How can the orca know Mackie? Is Mackie telling me everything she knows? And how can I see and verify all of it?
But Mackie trusts me. I know that because of the scar she has on her leg. Just two years ago, the summer of our freshman year, a group of us had decided to swim after hours in the East Point Country Club pool. It was mid-July and we'd been at the town square to hear a band playing. The country club was within a mile of the sound stage.
Six of us, Mackie, Jon, Wendy, Jennifer, Wes, and I, decided it would be cool to climb the club's wire security fence and take a moonlight dip in the outdoor pool. Starlight filtered through tree boughs as we stripped down to our underwear in the dim shadows. The girls giggled. We eased quietly into the pool water, enjoying relief from the summer heat. Suddenly, the overhead security lights blazed.
A voice boomed at us from the clubhouse porch. “I want everyone out of the pool.
We were busted! Hauling ass out of the water in high warble, we grabbed for our clothes, and hit the fence in wet underwear, scrambling to get over the enclosure. We got away before the police showed up, but the fence top was capped with twisted edges of metal. Mackie was cut just below her left knee. Blood streamed down her leg as we arrived at Jon's house. His parents were next door, visiting with their neighbors. We huddled like fugitives in the kitchen.
“Jon, could I have some paper towels and a piece of tape?” Mackie asked, holding a wad of tissues against the gash on her leg. Wendy and Jennifer looked at her like she was crazy.
“Mackie, that looks bad. We should go to the hospital,” Wendy suggested.
“I'm not going anywhere,” Mackie said.
Jon left the room and returned with a roll of paper towels and a First Aid kit.
When Mackie lifted the tissues, I saw that her wound was deep. Like needing-stitches-deep.
“Mackie, I think you should see someone for that,” I said.
She looked up at me. “No. Then I'd have to tell Mom and Dad. How would I explain any of this? They'd ground me for the rest of the summer. And you guys might get in trouble, too.”
“I don't think the bleeding's going to stop,” Jon said, frowning. Jennifer, Wendy, and I nodded. Mackie shot us a defiant look.
“Okay, Jeremy,” she said. “You sew it up.”
At first I thought she was messing with me, but she didn't smile, just held my eyes in hers. Jon left to get his mother's sewing box.
Trying to recall how sutures were stitched at the animal shelter, I splashed isopropyl alcohol on a small needle and threaded it with white thread. Then, as Mackie watched me in silence, I washed the wound with the alcohol, sewed the split skin with seven small stitches, added antibacterial spray on top, and finally applied a layer of gauze bandages.
Mackie had tears in her eyes as I finished. I couldn't tell if they were from pain or relief. Before everyone left to go home, she pressed her hand in mine and said, “I owe you.”
After last night, I now feel like I owe Mackie something. She paddled out to meet an orca whale that could have killed us with a flip of a fin. She isn't spooked by the idea of animals that somehow heal in her presence, even if she's not sure how the energy exchange thing works. And she trusts me with knowing all of it, trusts that I won't out her as some kind of freak show.
My skin tingles from the morning cold, and I tentatively set my feet on the braided rug next to my bed. It's early, but I need to move. My body is tightening down from the race yesterday and walking will help. Padding quietly in my sleep shorts, T-shirt, and bare feet down our wooden stairs, I hear Justin and Mom.
As I step into the kitchen, Mom looks up from the cantaloupe and honeydew melons she's chopping at the island counter. “Oh, I didn't expect to see you up this early. Are you okay?” she asks.
Mom, a morning person, is both alert and waiting for my answer.
“Yeah. Well, my legs feel kind of stiff. I need a banana.”
Justin's eyes narrow as he watches me peel a banana before our customary late-morning, Sunday brunch.
I smile. Competition for food is basic to every animal household.
“Justin. You can have a banana, too,” Mom says. She's a good primate mother who knows it's wise to diffuse signals of sibling jealousy.
He raises his eyebrows and wriggles them at me. I grimace back at him.
“Dad and I fell asleep reading before you came in last night. Did you have a good time at Jennifer's party?” Mom asks, as she returns to dicing the fruit.
Setting my hands on the counter and leaning forward, I stretch my leg muscles. Lots of runners' calf muscles cramp the day after racing and mine are getting there. Usually, eating something high in potassium, like a banana, helps.
“Oh, yeah, it was okay. Jen put on some old Dance Station.” Luckily, Mom has heard abbreviated answers for years about what I do on the weekends.
“Hmmm. Well, what's going on with everyone? Is anyone dating?”
“Mom, people don't date anymore.” I pause to reconsider. “Well, Jon and Erica are sort of seeing each other, but you know, that's different.”
“Different? How?” she quizzes, looking up from chopping the fruit.
“They've liked each other since grade school. Everyone figures they'll end up an old married couple.”
“An old married couple,” Mom repeats with a chuckle. “Right.” She turns to push melon rinds into our composting pail.
Moving out of my stretch, I slide into a pair of worn flip-flops by the kitchen door before turning to the oversized calendar on the bulletin board. The kitchen calendar shows all of our daily schedules.
“Are we marking up October today?” I ask, hoping to change the subject.
“Yes. You finish with cross-country soon, right?”